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The jitters are part of every dating experience. When we meet someone who we like, it’s natural to get a little nervous. The more we like them, the more anxious it can make us — and that feeling can lead to a whole feedback loop. You may ask yourself crazy questions and make wild assumptions. “Does she not like seafood? I bet her ex loved it and that’s why she doesn’t!”
You need to regulate your emotions and, hopefully, give yourself the best chance to succeed. And don’t worry, at least it won’t be as bad for you as this classic clip.
To understand what’s going on with our bodies, let’s look at anxiety in general. We’ve all had bouts of anxiety at some point in our lives. Maybe it was a job interview, first date, moving, or meeting the parents of your partner. Physiologically, your heart seems to race up into your throat, you get beads of sweat, and your hands may start to shake. Mentally, you may have repetitive negative thoughts about the situation. Everything seems to lead to embarrassment, shame, and rejection in your head. And nothing good comes when you’re this flustered.
The first thing we need to do when anxiety hits is to acknowledge it and figure out where it comes from. (Author’s note: this is what a good therapist can help with. Please consider it.) Specific dating anxiety often has links to unresolved challenges related to:
It’s natural to think about these things when we have a new experience. But we don’t want the emotions relating to our past to overpower us and sabotage the present.
“Know thyself.” Perhaps the simplest Shakespearean quote to say — but the hardest to do. Understanding why we do or feel something is the key to overcoming it. All of us have triggers based on our life circumstances. For a variety of reasons, I hate karaoke. It’s just not my bag. Any time my friends have parties featuring karaoke, and I can’t get out of them, I get anxious. I would avoid those evenings if I wanted to feel comfortable.
Practicing doing something and getting comfortable with it is the key to understanding anything. Many times, my clients expect to be successful right out of the gate. Then, they get frustrated when it doesn’t work out the way they want it to. Dating requires a skill set, similar to any other activity. The more you practice, the better you get. And the best way to practice is to go on speed dates!
You may have heard of speed dating. How it works is basically you speak to a date for about five minutes, then switch to the next date, and continue that process. It is a great way to meet a lot of people in a small amount of time.
Your goal doesn’t have to be landing a long-term date — speed dating might be useful simply for practice. Maybe it’s practicing asking good questions, maybe it’s thinking of good answers, maybe it’s telling stories. Whatever it is, go in with a clear idea of what you want to work on. Otherwise, we tend to fall back to the status quo of whatever we were doing before — which wasn’t really working.
Our thoughts and our emotions naturally influence how we act in dating situations. Research will back me up on this one.
“Although we all have unhelpful thoughts from time to time, it’s important to know what to do when they appear so we don’t let them change the course of our day,” said Rachel Goldman, Ph.D., a Psychologist and Clinical Assistant Professor at the NYU School of Medicine.
I send my clients a worksheet with blank spaces to fill out. Every action or circumstance has a pro side and a con side, it’s our decision which side to look at. We tend to go negative, so it’s important that we counter it with the possible positive side.
|Negative Thought||Rational Counter|
|–I got into trouble at work. They’ll probably fire me because I can’t do my job right.||–Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. I usually get positive feedback about my work. I’ll be careful not to make that same mistake.|
|–That woman only spoke to me because she felt bad for me.||–She was happy and flattered that someone approached her.|
|–I fumbled on our date. She probably thinks I’m totally dumb.||–My nervousness is cute and endearing.|
When you are on the date, and feel yourself sliding into negative thoughts, you can have a counterstatement ready in your head to help alleviate the stress. Did you know that stress sweat is different and smells different from workout sweat? Sweat to cool down begins after a slight warm-up period and tends to be odorless because it is composed mostly of water.
Stress sweat glands produce a thick, viscous fluid and respond immediately to emotional stress — no warm-up period required — to produce sweat that is full of proteins and lipids. The bacteria that naturally inhabit the surface of your skin love to feed and grow where proteins and lipids are present. And where there’s bacterial growth, there’s odor.
Too many times, we get preoccupied with everything and every detail. As you are sitting across from her, your mind starts whirling. “What if the food is burned? What if she gets food poisoning? What if we can’t find a cab in the rain?” These things are out of your control, so you need to teach yourself to let them go. Instead, focus on what you can control: the conversation, the location, your reactions, and how you feel. While it might take a while to fully actualize that, it’s important to start.
You may bring your date to new and different locations often. That’s great! New experiences build emotions and memories.
But if you’re worried or anxious about the date, go where “everybody knows your name.” Visit a bar or restaurant that you’re familiar with, do an activity that you enjoy doing, or be around people you know and are comfortable with. It’ll help you relax and focus on your date.
When you talk about yourself and your feelings, you can build trust, understanding, and connection. If you are nervous, it’s okay to mention it. In fact, it could turn a perceived weakness into a strength.
When you try to talk, and keep tripping over your tongue, not saying anything draws more attention to it. Instead, if you simply say, “I’m sorry, I’m a little nervous around you. I’m just excited to be here,” she will not only understand why, but may find it endearing!
You are probably not the only one feeling nervous! She has had to choose her outfit, do her makeup, fix her hair, think of stories to tell, and try to hide her nervousness, as well. If you can look at her and know that she is feeling the same way, it can take a load off your mind. It can also create a bonding experience because you’re both a little off your game and talking about it can help you connect.
We all feel emotional over both real and perceived experiences in life. If all of it feels too much when you are dating, you always have the choice not to date. It may be best to take a step back and focus on yourself and your goals.
It’s better to take a breather and regroup than to keep winding yourself up and making dating even more challenging.